“25KM before 11AM, THIS had better be worth it….!” I’m chugging along the Main-Donau Canal, the sun rising to my left. First of all, it’s my own fault that I have to crunch a half marathon before 11AM. I didn’t hit the milage mark yesterday, stopping almost 15K before my planned running goal.
Second of all, it’s definitely worth it: I’m picking up my favorite person in the world, the one human who has always been there for me, and pushed me so much further than I thought I could go on my own, just through his unconditional love, support, encouragement and occasional stern talking to. Who has always helped me be so much stronger than I thought I was, simply by existing.
My little brother.
“Geezus, dude, are you okay?!” Maxi runs up to me, a wheezing, sweaty mess on two legs slugging her way towards him. (Yes, his name is Maxi, too. This replacement wasn’t planned, it’s just another random serendipitous twist in the story.) “I… 25KM… phone dead… charge… Audi seller down the road…” I sit down on the rock he was waiting next to, panting. “Didn’t want… let you… wait.”
It takes me a moment to recover. My phone had decided it was too cold to continue functioning somewhere after the first 10KM, and I had run off the canal at random, hoping I hadn’t missed the town a few kilometers south of Nürnberg that Maxi and I had agreed to meet at. He’d also taken the train a bit into the length of my run, so he wouldn’t have to run a full marathon right off the bat on his first day.
Which was a good call on his end – but meant I also had to run those 10KM to get to him first. Additionally to the 15KM I had lazily decided not to run the day before.
But bad mistakes make great stories, right?
In my case, not knowing where I was lead me to an Audi dealership, where I sat impatiently for 10 minutes, waiting for my phone to charge. “You okay?!” The heavily pregnant receptionist asked me. “Fine, just fine.” She handed me a women’s magazine to read while I wait for my phone to recover. “Maybe this will calm you down.”
Yes. Reading about celebrity divorce mudfights is exactly what gets one in a calm state of mind.
“So that’s why I’m half an hour late,” I tell Maxi. “I tried really hard to be on time, but…” – “Hey, it’s okay.” He grins at me.
“Are you ready to continue on now?” I hug him tight. “Sure. First half marathon down, two more to go.” His eyes widen.
“You think we are going to get that far today?!”
35KM later, I’ll be running in circles in front of the gates of the inn we’re staying in, just so I can crush the 60KM for the first time.
We got that far in one day. Told ya my brother could push me like no other.
“So… do you think we have a good sibling relationship?” I ask, tentatively. Maxi, bouncing up and down next to me, his running steps shortened to slow down enough for me to keep up with, rolls his eyes. “No. I am grudgingly on this run, and am supporting you because I do not like you.”
I grin in response.
Admittedly, I wasn’t on board on him joining at the start. But that wasn’t because of him – when he called me, sometime at the start of Week 2, I had just found my rhythm. Wake up early, run before it gets hot, walk during the heat of the day, have a nap, continue walking and then run again once temperatures drop. Follow this with writing as the lentils bubble away, sleep – and repeat. I had just gotten used to being alone, and my brain had accepted that being alone didn’t automatically mean it would have to signal “ALERT – WE ARE LONELY – ACTIVATE THE TEAR GLANDS.” After the disaster that was the first week, I was reluctant to put any sort of pressure on this fragile system.
But Maxi had been my main running training partner over the last few months, motivating me when training had turned into a chore, and cheering me on when running became repetitive and boring. I wouldn’t have kept up my training for this run properly, if not for him. If anyone deserved to join me on the run, it should be him.
Plus, it had been a while since our last big adventure together, and I missed that kid.
“So, how are ya feeling?” I ask him, as we bound through towards his first ever 40KM run. We’re deep in Frankenland now, people greeting us with “Servus!” on the trails, and small stone cliffs jutting out into valleys. I miss climbing. “Still good, still good…” He answers, though he doesn’t look it. “My feet hurt,” he adds. “Not surprising. My feet hurt like hell in the first week.” I point at his shoes. “Wait. Those are new.” He nods in response. “You … went on an Ultramarathon… with new, previously unworn shoes.”
Another sheepish nod.
The habit of committing All The Beginner’s Mistakes also runs in the family.
We reach Mörnsheim just as the sun sets, flooding the sky with bright pink and orange colors. We devour our plates of Käsespätzle in mere minutes, gobbling down the melted cheese and noodle dough as if we haven’t tasted food in days.
“Hey, you ran your first marathon today!” He grins at me.
Dang, I love that smile. Same smile as when we’d both been so, so much younger, and I’d just shown him how to catch tadpoles in the streams of the Botanical Garden. Same grin as when we played tag on our skateboards on our own at the deserted old river port for hours at a time, and one of us had just managed to shove the other off the board. Same grin as when he told me he was moving to Berlin to live in the same city as I was in.
We don’t just have a close relationship as siblings. This is my best friend sitting opposite of me – has always been, and will always been.
“I’m really proud of you,” I say, high-fiving him across the table.
“I’m really proud of you, too,” he replies.
I’m really happy Maxi’s here with me, on this run. And in general.
Love ya, little bro. Always have, always will.
Pros of running with your brother: fun to talk to, already having an established conversation topic cycle to go through, sharing snacks and occasional human-to-human contact in the shape of a supportive hug.
Cons of running with your brother:
“…..You walk a lot.”
“Geesh… you’re slow.”
“Can we finally run again?”
“I’ll run ahead for just a bit.”
Aside from the fact that Maxi can drop me like a hot potato on this run, his joining me also came with less “my-ego-hurts”-related issues. The organization of the trip also became mildly more complicated by the fact that he didn’t bring any sleeping gear. His backpack, a 15l version of mine, isn’t equipped to carry his giant winter sleeping bag.
Translation: we ain’t using hunting stands.
But I knew that. It was clear before he came that we would have to find a place to stay each night – yet, searching for inns on the road is not as easy as you might think. Little to no phone reception in the woods often led to conversations like this:
“There’s inns in a town 30KM away, I think.” – “Sounds great, I’ll googl- dang. My phone has no reception.”
Thankfully, I have the most amazing Berlin-stationed support team ever: Denis. Google. And a phone.
But on occasions when reception was available, we did manage to find our own way underneath a warm roof, and into a comfy bed.
Though it didn’t always quite work out as we had expected.
“Are you…. sure it’s this one?” Maxi had booked a hotel, somewhere north of Augsburg. We’d made our way to it after jogging the last 15KM, Maxi officially running his first Ultramarathon: 50K. We had passed by a mall area that reminded me starkly of the US, a giant, black cubicle of a building at its center: cinema. The hotel was just outside of the mall area, the words “ME-Motel” buzzing in neon green and white light.
“…….it looks like this is where I’d take my secret lover.” I say, staring at the building. Maxi walks towards a door and begins punching in a 10-number door code. A sign outside explains the booking process to us: all online, no human interaction, and also, if you’re having problems, here’s a number that doesn’t work on the weekends.
“What kind of apocalyptic robot motel is this?” I ask, as we step through the door.
The place itself is nice enough, though I wouldn’t want to see it underneath UV light, just for peace of mind’s sake. Maxi giggles at my obvious looks of distrust. “Hey, I’m a student, and this is cheap.” – “A hunting stand is cheap,” I reply. He shrugs, then puts his running shoes on again. “I’m just going to zip out and get those last 3KM I need for the full 50K.”
He’s back within 10 minutes.
This kid is too fast for me and my ego to handle.
We don’t sleep well that night, the incredibly loud noise coming through the walls keeping us awake:
The next day, we head out for Augsburg. I need a rest day, and so does he, judging by his face. But we’ve got 25KM to go, and endeavor to snail there. My feet hurt more when I walk than when I run, but I’m too tired to do more than hobble. We stop frequently, my feet pulsing with throbs of pain. My shoe is falling apart, and my feet are carrying the burden of it.
Thankfully the river Lech, and its clear, cold water gives a little relief.
And a few giggles when I decide to jump in.
“Will I see you again on the Zugspitze?” I ask Maxi. “I’ll be there,” he nods. One day left together. But I can already tell that my initial reluctance to have him join, is turning into reluctance to let him go.
Dang, saying goodbye is going to be hard.
“….. I can’t believe you led us to the building of the German Federal Bank, when all we needed was a Deutsche Bank ATM.” Maxi’s still laughing at my idiocy. “Look, I typed it into google maps, and just read “German” and “Bank”. Who would have guessed that there’s a Federal Bank building in Augsburg?!” He’s still laughing. “Your sense of direction, navigation and general geography is disturbing.” Another chuckle. “Yeah, yeah, keep laughing,” I retort. He does. “Well, at least you’ve learned that Switzerland isn’t right next to Norway, just because it, too, has mountains, snow and is a generally rich country.”
“Don’t ever tell anyone that I, an aspiring travel writer, didn’t know where Switzerland is.”
More laughter as he walks off into night. I follow him – there’s a possibility I might not find my way back to the hostel otherwise.
Augsburg is beautiful. Just as the clear blue water of the water of the river flowing through it had surprised me during the day, it’s petite “Fachwerkhäuser”, old German-style timber houses, delight me as we wander through the streets at night. “If it has a bouldering gym, one could almost move here!” I say, quickly checking to see if – yes, I could move here. We find an enormous bouquet of flowers lying in front of a closed door as we explore the city. “I love you.” A card tucked within the blossoms reads. “…….wonder what went down there,” I ask. “Same old, same old, probably,” Maxi replies.
I’m going to allow myself to be hopeful for once, and believe that it’s a symbol of beginning love, rather than a desperate act to prevent its demise.
The night in Augsburg comes to an early end, as we both have to go our separate ways early the next morning. I hear him quietly chatting with his girlfriend, as I lie in bed, waiting for the lights to be turned off, so I can sleep.
“I miss you,” he says softly. A pause. “Love you, too,” I hear him say.
Honestly? Sometimes it’s hard to have the accept that I am no longer his main adventure buddy. That it’s been years since our last trip together, and that more often than not, it’s not just us two on trips these days.
Sometimes, I selfishly wish it was just us two again, two ginger siblings doing crazy things together out in the world.
But he’s got his own life. And we still do crazy things together, even if mostly with our respective/revolving partners in tow. Most importantly, he seems happy.
And that’s all that matters in the end, doesn’t it?